Aiding Sleep Can Help Lift Depression, Study Finds ; Talk Therapy Is Combined with Insomnia Treatment for High Rate of Recovery

By Carey, Benedict | International New York Times, November 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

Aiding Sleep Can Help Lift Depression, Study Finds ; Talk Therapy Is Combined with Insomnia Treatment for High Rate of Recovery


Carey, Benedict, International New York Times


Growing evidence suggests that talk therapy designed to reduce insomnia can drastically improve recovery rates for depression sufferers.

Curing insomnia in people with depression could double their chance of a full recovery, scientists are reporting. The findings, based on an insomnia treatment that uses talk therapy rather than drugs, are the first to emerge from a series of studies of sleep and depression to be released in the coming year.

The new report affirms the results of a smaller pilot study, giving scientists confidence that the effects of the insomnia treatment are real. If the figures continue to hold up, the advance would be the most significant in the treatment of depression since the introduction of Prozac in 1987.

Depression is the most common mental disorder, affecting some 18 million Americans in any given year, according to government figures, and more than half of them also have insomnia.

Experts familiar with the report said that the results were plausible and that if supported by other studies, they should lead to major changes in treatment.

"It would be an absolute boon to the field," said Dr. Nada L. Stotland, professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College, in Chicago, who was not connected with the latest research. "It makes good common sense clinically," she added. "If you have a depression, you're often awake all night, it's extremely lonely, it's dark, you're aware every moment that the world around you is sleeping, every concern you have is magnified."

The study is the first of four on sleep and depression that is nearing completion, all financed by the National Institute of Mental Health. They are evaluating a type of talk therapy for insomnia that is comparatively inexpensive, relatively brief and usually effective, but not currently a part of standard treatment.

The new report, from a team at Ryerson University, in Toronto, found that 87 percent of patients who resolved their insomnia in four biweekly talk therapy sessions also saw their depression symptoms dissolve after eight weeks of treatment, either with an antidepressant drug or a placebo pill -- almost twice the rate of those who could not shake their insomnia. Those numbers are in line with a previous pilot study of insomnia treatment at Stanford.

In an interview, the report's lead author, Colleen E. Carney, said, "The way this story is unfolding, I think we need to start augmenting standard depression treatment with therapy focused on insomnia. …

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